Reporter Who Witnessed White Phosphorus Use by Marines in Falluja Weighs in on the Controversy

I haven’t really talked much about this whole white phosphorus thing until now, though I’ve been entertained by the back-and-forth in the comments. But a while ago Sven forwarded this really interesting article from the North County Times to me, and now that I finally got around to reading it I wanted to pass it along. From staff writer Darrin Mortenson: White phosphorus debate grows white-hot.

It includes a firsthand account of the then-embedded reporter’s experience alongside Marines shelling Iraqi fighters with WP during the first battle of Falluja. It also offers a nice summary of the Pentagon’s evolving claims regarding the use of the substance, first saying it had not been used as an anti-personnel weapon, then, when confronted with detailed accounts of just that, switching to saying that it wasn’t a banned weapon, and wasn’t used against civilians.

Finally, the comments at the end of the story mention the ironic uncovering of a Defense Department report after the first Gulf War in 1991 that alleged that Saddam had used WP against Iraqi Kurds, and referrred to it as a “chemical weapon.”

Highly recommended.

7 Responses to “Reporter Who Witnessed White Phosphorus Use by Marines in Falluja Weighs in on the Controversy”

  1. Craig Says:

    Thanks for trying to stir the pot again John! What happened? Did you get disappointed when that prior string of comments mercifully ended?!!

    You’re killing me……

    This reporter leaves out some important counter-facts that, though they ruin his intended storyline, do add some reasonable and enlightening balance to this issue. I have previously linked to stories that note numerous factual errors in that RAI documentary as well as filmclips of activity that had nothing to do with Falluja, even though the story infers that they are. And the key US soldier who is used to verify the information in the story turned out to have not even been a part of the battle, as he stated in the film, and has also been shown to have been dishonest about several other facts as well (see my prior postings). If that isn’t enough, that soldier is also a very active member of some anti-war groups including Cindy Sheehan’s circus. You may say, “big deal”, but if I was trying to pass off the credentials and integrity of someone who was providing a key argument for a pro-war/military issue and it turned out that the person I was using was a well-connected Administration supporter, the anti-war crowd would immediately say that person’s opinion was rendered bogus.

    Perhaps this reporter happened to miss this bit of failed self-disclosure and dishonesty from such a key source in this documentary.

    The reporter also is sloppy in stating that using WP is illegal if used on “people”. What I’m sure he meant to say, if he intended on being honest, was that it was illegal if used deliberately on civilians. Since “people” are insurgents and civilians alike, it could be quite misleading to use that term. But then, maybe that wasn’t an important distinction to this reporter.

    He also seems to imply that because the military talking heads stammered initially about how the WP was used, that this implied that the weaponary itself is illegal. There is no really effort to disclose that WP and some very specific ways in which it is used is quite legal as an incendiary weapon from an INTERNATIONAL perspective. Keep in mind that the town was ordered to have its civilians evacuate the area for quite a few days prior to the attack (and nearly all did, to encampments around the city or to relatives).

    So essentially, this article is highly recommended if you wish to sustain a previously-held anti-military belief about this whole WP fiasco, but not if you want answers that take in the full story.

    Now, Treehugger will be along to state his case. Here is his short version:

    WP has a chemical in it, therefore the US is dealing in chemical warfare on the Iraqi population. I care not what your silly international agreements say about it. Since you can’t dispute that WP involves chemicals in some way, BEHOLD my blinding and unvarnished TRUTH!!! All who disagree are cretins and conservative pigs! I win, you lose!!

  2. Sven Says:

    Living in North County, I have to admit the credibility of the NCTimes is often questionable. However, the reporter in this article was apparently in Fallujah, so I think that puts him in a better position than any of us to say what went on there. That said, I suppose it’s only fair to post the NCTimes editorial they ran after this piece, which Craig will find more to his liking:

    U.S. Marines: ferocious, lethal and legal

    But to me, the concern isn’t whether it is technically legal or not to use WP. It’s the lying. Why does our government keep flip-flopping on the WP issue? Also, its hypocritical of us to say that we can use it and it’s fair and legal, yet we apparently criticise Saddam for using them in the past, and labeled them as chemical weapons? By using them, are we winning the hearts and minds of the Iraq people? Not if you listen to what Riverbend has to say regarding this subject:

  3. Craig Says:

    This article, which links to Juan Cole, gives some additional doubt to the idea that WP is considered a chemical warfare weapon, or that the US military is using it in an illegal manner. He also has some less hysterical ideas about exactly how many civilians chose to remain behind in Falluja and what WP can or can’t do.

    Juan is not a pro-war commentator at all, and I often disagree with his narratives. But it’s nice to see that he is being more thoughtful and not reactionary in this specific circumstance.

  4. enkidu Says:

    WP is legal munitions if used against combatants (ie not just for lighting and smoke screens). Agreed.

    errr, maybe not?

    I’ll clip the lead bit for you Craig: “SUBJ: IIR 2 243 1050 91/POSSIBLE USE OF PHOSPHOROUS CHEMICAL

    I think that our people over there have morals and rules and regs, so I find it impossible to believe our troops would knowlingly target civilians, but it probably happened (regretfully) as collateral damage. Another difference between Saddam and our Marines (other than intent), is the actual weapons are certainly not the same. In the end, I think it is a matter of fine lines, grey areas, definitions and statistics. Opinion?

    The lying and info war massaging is ominous.

  5. enkidu Says:

    Craig: thanks for the Jaun Cole link… my point partially withdrawn (does that make any sense?) How much? Half? A third? Two thirds?

    “Cole: As many web commentators have pointed out, this document is not a Pentagon-generated report, but simply a Pentagon record of a third-party conversation. No known Pentagon-generated document issuing from the US military characterizes white phosphorus as a chemical weapon.”

    I could be snarky and say after reading that 12 page LATimes piece on “Curveball” and how the w regime manipulated the intelligence data, that third-hand convos were probably a lot closer to the truth than Chalabi’s (and Curveball’s) BS. Oh, and Cheney’s BS too.

    Fact is much of the international community does think phosphorous bombs are inhumane chemical weapons. What IS a humane weapon? anyway…

  6. treehugger Says:

    Oh so sorry Craig. Excuse me for being concerned about this whole thing.

    And um, yeah, thats the way I talk about conservatives?.

    You attacking me before I even posted on this thread shows your true conservative colors. Thanks.

  7. enkidu Says:

    something more from Juan Cole:

    Let me finish with a word to W. As for your legacy two decades from now, George, let me clue you in on something–as a historian. In 20 years no Iraqis will have you on their minds one way or another. Do you think anyone in Egypt or Israel is still grateful to Jimmy Carter for helping bring to an end the cycle of Egyptian-Israeli wars? Jimmy Carter powerfully affected the destinies of all Egyptians and Israelis in that key way. Most people in both countries have probably never heard of him, and certainly no one talks about the first Camp David Accords anymore except as a dry historical subject. The US pro-Israel lobby is so ungrateful that they curse Carter roundly for all the help he gave Israel. Human beings don’t have good memories for these things, which is why we have to have professional historians, a handful of people who are obsessed with the subject. And I guarantee you, George, that historians are going to be unkind to you. You went into a major war over a non-existent nuclear weapons program. Presidents’ reputations don’t survive things like that. Historians are creatures of documents and precision. A wild exaggeration with serious consequences is against everything they stand for as a profession. So forget about history and destiny and the divine will. You are at the helm of the Exxon Valdez and it is headed for the shoals. You can’t afford to daydream about future decades.

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